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Recent letters to Amtrak
By -

19 June 2007. I am currently a graduate student at U.C. Berkeley and regularly use your Capitol Corridor service from Davis to Richmond. I generally depart on the 6:35 a.m. Train and return on the 5:57 p.m. Or 7:17 p.m. Trains. The trains have always been clean and comfortable.

While I am aware that my commuting circumstances are extreme in terms of time and distance, I am appalled by the lack of punctuality of your train service. After 12 months of monthly $282.00 passes, I have found it a very rare circumstance for trains to arrive or depart at their scheduled times, especially in the evening. And, even after the train is en route, substantial delays are likely. In my opinion, this is dishonest business practice and an important safety issue.

I understand that the track is shared and hence prone to some delay but little attempt is made to keep trains on schedule. In fact, the only thing that is timely on the Capitol Corridor is the collection of tickets and the obnoxious advertisements from the car. No earnest attempt is made to compensate customers for the significant delays (my combined delay today was 1:45 minutes, and no, vouchers for the car won't do) nor are there any announced plans to improve the service.

Among the goals of Amtrak should be to make public transportation a viable option for commuters in an effort to reduce the environmental and social impacts of daily driving yet, how can one choose a service that has such a poor reputation for reliability? Even with my very flexible work schedule, the Capitol Corridor has become an untenable option. It is easy to criticize without making suggestions, so here are three that I was able to think of during my wait on the 6:35 train this morning (1:15 delay) and at Richmond Station this evening (:30 delay).

1) Airlines make publicly available their on-time statistics. You should make these available monthly and annually to riders so they can make an informed purchase. I seriously doubt this will improve your ridership, but it will at least be honest.

2) Safety should be a primary goal, and in urban areas with high crime rates (Richmond, for example) punctuality is a safety issue and not a courtesy. If the train is going to be significantly delayed, security should be provided. During one of my more memorable delays, several passengers were left in Richmond at night for more than 2 hours while we were harassed by beggars and potential criminals. One individual told me to "be cool and not get shot."

3) Compensate passengers for their time. This could work on a sliding scale where refunds are provided depending on the duration of the delay, and after a specified amount of time the ride should be free. For monthly passes, a reduction in the following month's fare should be provided.

My most memorable delay occurred a few years ago when after a 5 hour delay well past midnight, the train blew through Davis station without stopping. When I finally reached the conductor, he was busy tucking his shirt in as if waking from a nap. Customers then had to wait more than 30 minutes for cab rides back to Davis. When I complained about the service at Davis station, I was offered a $5 voucher for the car, as if a cold soda and a bag of chips would make everything better.

I presume that this is not the first letter to cross your desk regarding the tardiness issue, and it certainly will not be the last. I feel it is my duty, however, to try to make suggestions and raise awareness to ease the life of several of my fellow commuters whom I see stressed by this issue daily. You should consider that every minute of delay caused by the poor train service is time that these individuals could be spending at home with their families. You should, at the very least, make a concerted effort to help them get home safely and on time.

14 November 2007. I have attached a copy of my previous letter for your review as I have not yet received a response. After 5 months of commuting via alternative methods, today I decided to give your train service another try in the hopes that it had improved. The morning commute (6:35a) went well, and your train was only a few minutes late. The evening train (5:57) surprised me as it left perfectly on time! In fact, I was a few minutes late and had to watch the train roll off back towards Davis and wait until 7:17.

In my previous letter, I mentioned that I felt that Richmond station was unsafe, and I have to report that it has not improved. Some improvements to the BART area have been made, however, and I hope to see this trend continue. As I was awaiting the 7:17 pm train, a Bakersfield bound train made a brief stop.

In the past, I have used this train in order to get to Martinez station as a waypoint in order to use its indoor space to get ahead on work. This has never been a problem with your staff in the past, and indeed when I asked if I could use the train to get to Martinez on my route home, the ticket checker gave me his approval. However, he then punched my 10-ride ticket and informed me that another punch would be deducted once en route to Davis. When I responded in disbelief, the checker told me that I was wrong and this is the normal procedure. He then told me that other trains had been giving me "free rides" and that I was a non-paying rider.

To be clear, I have always paid for your services, usually with a monthly ride pass or a 10-ride ticket. He then demanded an alternative form of payment for the ride to Martinez. When I responded "no," the disagreement escalated to an argument and I then asked to see the boss or conductor. I must honestly confess that I was frustrated and angry at this point and was not as cordial as I should have been. The ticket checker then told me that I would not see the boss, and I would just have to accept the situation. At this point I decided to let the argument go, and, if necessary, contact customer service.

But... The ticket checker soon returned and proceeded to tell me that he had talked to his conductor and the situation was decided; I was clearly wrong, and never had a chance to win the argument anyway. Essentially, he wanted to let me know that I had lost, and he had won. I told him fine, and that I would handle the problem through normal service channels. I thought that the situation was surely resolved.

But… Instead of letting it go, he continued to argue telling me repeatedly that I was "in the wrong, didn't understand," and he needed to point that out for me. He continued to make snide remarks, spelling out his name for my "little letter" (I was working on my laptop at the time, but not on this letter) and made several disrespectful smirks until finally walking away. His parting comment was "it's tough to get a little dose of reality, isn't it?"

Even if the standard practice is to punch the fare card twice in these situations, I hope that you will agree that I should have never been treated so disrespectfully. I was accused of being a freeloader and then harassed by a person who just needed to feel good about winning a petty argument with a paying customer. He intentionally sought to escalate the argument to achieve some sense of personal satisfaction. I am amazed by this person's attitude towards me, and shocked by his confrontational demeanor.

I wonder if he feels that the argument was worth $10.80? He says that "it's tough to get a little dose of reality," well, how about never getting the business of an honest, reliable customer again? And, as you can probably tell from my letter, I will not remain quiet about my experiences on Amtrak. Most importantly, I am disappointed that Amtrak still cannot fulfill my needs as a Bay Area commuter. I will be returning my 10- ride pass for a refund this evening.

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Service
StarStarStarStarEmpty StarBy -
Rating: 4/51

I ride AMTRAK several times a year and noticed on my most recent trip that the onboard personnel are friendlier than they've been in years past. I must admit that transcontinental routes are consistently late but California AMTRAK trains are very reliable when it comes to on time performance.

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Trying to Book a Trip a Nightmare
StarStarEmpty StarEmpty StarEmpty Star-
Rating: 2/51

I tried to book a trip online five times. I kept getting a decline for unknown reasons. So, I called customer service. Their automated Julie system is incredibly unpleasant. Once you get to a real person, 50% of the time they will hang up on you rather than actually have some knowledgeable solutions or customer service skills. I have spent hours and hours on this, and I still do not have a ticket. I need customer service who does not talk down to me or hang up when I just need solutions.

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It's Not Florida, but the Sun's in My Face
StarStarStarEmpty StarEmpty StarBy -
Rating: 3/51

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND -- This seems like such a petty complaint after reading another reviewers remarks. I recently boarded a train in Baltimore and was so annoyed to find there was no way to block the southern exposure effect coming through my window. My suggestion--either install window shades on this particular route or discount the sunny seats. Some people suffer from disorders that are worsened by too much light.

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Love Hate Relationship With Amtrak
StarStarStarEmpty StarEmpty StarBy -
Rating: 3/51

CHICAGO-LOS ANGELES, ILLINOIS -- Here's the good, bad and ugly regarding my many trips on Amtrak, always long distance (since I had to stop flying due to an ear pressure issue)

Good: If you get a sleeper car, you are treated well by everyone working on the train it seems. Bad: Sleeping cars will make it prohibitively expensive if you need to travel more than once a year and book quick. Ugly: If you book coach (which still costs slightly more than a similar airline ticket for long, big city trips), be prepared to be treated like trash by most Amtrak employees. You might as well not be human. I have dealt with 10% of attendants who aren't like this (and be very thankful if you get a dreadlocked gentleman named **, he is awesome).

Good: Food, which is included in your total if you book a sleeper, is surprisingly edible. Bad: If you do not get a sleeper, the dining options are pretty pricey for what you get and they tend to serve you with less care (a recurring theme with Amtrak employees). Ugly: Amtrak is ridiculously disorganized, will overfill overnight trips with seating arrangements, when you walk through the train, there are empty 2 seaters all over the place. Meanwhile, they consistently put tall guys together for days, making it very uncomfortable just because they can. And they will not rectify it because if you are traveling in coach, who cares about you.

Good: Very informative about delays, which aren't their fault. Anyone who travels by train knows Amtrak doesn't own the rails and the vaunted private sector believes all goods have the right of way over people. So if you blame the government, as some commenters do, you should note the next bad. And they try to make up time in the middle, but obviously cannot get ahead until the end since they can't leave stops early. Bad: A lot of entitled jack holes seem to ride, whether it be 12 pieces of luggage guy or fall asleep on your shoulder guy.

Good: Lots of great scenery. Great way to see the country. Multi city option is great. Bad: The guest rewards program is awful. They spend more time with point gimmicks on credit cards and other shopping offers than they do on loyal travelers, which is just awful. Ugly: I will reiterate, most of the attendants are just horrid. Watch your stuff like a hawk, because if something goes missing, they don't care at all.

Good: Always had an outlet right at my seat. Makes travel easier. Bad: Get wifi and join the 21st century. Most Greyhounds have it for crying out loud.

Good: Loads of legroom and carry on space. Bring some food with you if you can taking advantage of this. Bad: Pay someone to clean the bathrooms, although maybe some passengers should join civilization instead of being gross. I could say more, but this covers the what to expect.

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Bad Bad Service / He** Of A Bad Experience!!
StarEmpty StarEmpty StarEmpty StarEmpty StarBy -
Rating: 1/51

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS -- I would like to state that due 2 employees of amtrak railway service I was able to ride FREE. That's what I said FREE. I went online to purchase a ticket to leave from Popular Bluff Missouri to Michigan -- mind you there is no station attendants to talk to nor receive a ticket from. The original train never made it on time mind you - 8 hrs late the train.

I board the train when it does finally arrive with luggage and a reservation number that I was given when I purchased my ticket online. Moving on down the tracks, long ride, conductor comes alone asking for tickets, "tickets please" he says. Never do they ask me, so I figure once I get to Chicago for a layover and transfer to another train, everything would be taken care of then at the station. NOT!!!

I get there at 1 A.M. in the morning and it's time to close the station down and there's no record of me ever riding the train -- so they say. I was basically was being called a lie. There's no way that just happened they told me. Even with witnesses to confirm the train ride, they still say it never happened. To make a long story short I was put out of the station after I finally got my luggage that was sat and left out by the train tracks. THANK GOD, my medicine was in my shoe bag with my name on my prescription bottle and that's when my name was being announced over the loud speaker.

Here I am -- alone with heavy luggage downtown Chicago, sitting in a 24 hour McDonald's, waiting for 5 A.M. so the station opens back up. THE so called women that worked that night at the station were complete WITCHES. Excuse my tongue. The one police officer on duty was more than nice - he was HUMAN. My my my... if that's the way business is being handled -- AMTRAK-- you people are losing an awful lot of money. I am just one person - what about all the others?? BAD BAD SERVICE -- BAD BAD BUSINESS.

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Train Service Sucks!!
StarEmpty StarEmpty StarEmpty StarEmpty StarBy -
Rating: 1/51

CENTRALIA, ILLINOIS -- I arrived at the train station in Centrailia, IL 3 hours before the train was scheduled to depart. The train ended up being almost an hour late with no way of knowing exactly when it would show up. Finally, when it did arrive, it slowed down, stopped, the conductor threw some bags off, a couple passengers departed, and the train took off. I barely had time to get out of the car I was waiting in before the train was already on its way out.

They didn't even check to see if a passenger was supposed to get on the train and sure as hell didn't wait for me as I ran towards the tracks. It's utter bull crap. Even the station conductor, who knew I was there waiting, failed to tell me prior to the train's arrival that if the train is running late and you're not waiting on the platform, they will leave without you. No signs were posted or anything listed on the website that stated you must be on the platform waiting if the train is running late. The website also suggested that the train has a load and unload time of about 5 minutes. This train had come and gone within a minute.

And besides all that crap, it makes it even worse that they expect you to stand on the platform and wait for a late train, not knowing when the hell it's going to show up, in the freezing cold at 1 in the morning in the middle of a shady side of town by yourself. Their service sucks, their staff are douchebags, and the idea that trains are supposed to be on time is a bull crap lie. The best way I can put it: If you're new to train travel, make sure you can read minds.

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Amtrak Stinks - Literally
By -

I recently emailed Amtrak Customer Service the following complaint regarding my train travel experience:

I'd like to share with you my recent experience traveling from NY to LA on Amtrak. When traveling coach, I do expect a certain amount of discomfort and I plan accordingly. However, there are a number of things Amtrak might consider to create a more pleasant trip for coach passengers.

1) Smoking: Smokers are addicts and will continue, despite threats to put them off the train, to smoke in the bathrooms and changing rooms. The smell from this permeates the entire train car and does not go away. Please make a real effort to create a solution that meets the needs of your smoking and non-smoking passengers. Smokers are not going away and they don't care about kids, people with allergies, or the general health of anyone else.

2) Air Quality: We had the unfortunate experience of several drunken passengers who had both stomach and bowel problems. For the last 30 hours of our trip, the train car smelled like a port-a-potty. Several passengers had to leave the car as the smell was overwhelming. I'm not sure how to solve this, but ventilation changes or a different cleaning and/or toilet solution might help.

3) Employee Morale: In general I found the train personnel to be on the discourteous side. Perhaps it was a bad journey for everyone, but passengers look to the staff to help make it better. I observed staff giving curt responses, speaking in disrespectful tone of voice, and flat-out ignoring passengers.

I do enjoy riding the train, much more than flying. But after this last trip I am not likely to choose Amtrak. All my friends have now heard about my experience and that kind of word-of-mouth is not the marketing that will bring you new passengers. Thank you for your time."

I received a reply which in itself barely addressed my experience or gave any hint of the company's desire or intention to create better travel experiences. In addition, when I replied with the information requested in their email to me, the Amtrak email server did not process my reply and returned my email as 'undeliverable.' Here is Amtrak's reply to my complaint:

"Thank you for your email. In order for us to document your concerns and suggestions correctly, and to provide the right train manager the information we are asking you to attach your reservation number or travel dates to this email. Once we have that information we will file a report on your behalf to the responsible managers. We do apologize for your trip being less than satisfactory and we appreciate your comments.

Regards,
Amtrak Customer Relations"

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An Amtrak Trip You Should Know About
By -

In October of 2007, my wife and I (65 years old) began a two thousand dollar Amtrak trip in a standard roomette. We were soon subjected to stultifying high temperatures and a lack of ventilation in our 6 and-a-half by 3 and-a-half foot compartment. The unsmiling, condescending and insolent conductors professed helplessness in the face of the oppressive conditions, and when I asked one of the conductors what his name was, he immediately covered his identity badge with his hand! We continued to object to these conditions, and finally the conductor had the train stopped, called in local marshals, and ejected my wife and I from the train in the middle of the night.

We were forced to quickly pack all of our luggage and drag our bags off the train without any assistance. We had our tickets confiscated, and were left standing in the dark around midnight, after being told that we were forever banned from Amtrak trains. However, we were not the only couple who was profoundly distressed by our Amtrak experience. When the conductor overheard me speaking to one of the marshals about this, he immediately returned our tickets to us and offered my wife and I the option of getting back on the train the following day!

What was it that I told the Marshall? That approximately 12 hours before, another couple had been kicked off the train with the accompaniment of the police for complaining about the suffocating conditions! It's one thing that Amtrak charges high prices for the honor of occupying a tiny bedroom in one of their obsolete railcars. It's another thing if in addition, the service personnel are generally rude, insulting and sadistic. The only exception to this would be in the dining car where a gratuity is expected.

My wife and I sued Amtrak for this abusive service and our abandonment in an unknown town in the middle of the night. We won with little difficulty. It seems Amtrak has a stable of attorneys on call to take care of litigations of this type. Make sure you are prepared with adequate legal support the next time you travel Amtrak.

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Trying To Get Breakfast For My Husband, Who Is Wheelchair Bound, And Myself
By -

01/04/2010 on train #4 the South West Chief, approx 8:25 am, I asked the sleeping car attendant, did I need a slip or anything to take to the dining car to get breakfast, she said no, just go in, the servers would give me a slip, just sign my name and room number. I went into the dining area, I sat there at least 15 min, before any came to get my order.

When the server came, I asked for a cup of coffee, and told him I would like to place my order, he told me I was going to have to wait a while, because I should have had the sleeping car attendant sign papers for me to get our food, other people was coming in from the sleeping cars, and not once did he tell them, they should have had the attendant sign any papers. I kept waiting at least 30 min, he still didn't wait on me, he served 6 people that came in after me, by now I was getting really upset. He finally did bring my coffee, still hadn't taken my order.

I asked him if he were going to take my order, he told me, "You are going to have to wait, I have got to get your slips signed by the room attendant." I told him, "You haven't told anybody else You had to get the sleeping car attendant to sign the slips before You serve them," I threw the coffee and the cup on the floor, and I asked them were they prejudice. I said "is it because I am black, You won't serve me?"

Then the other server came running up there and said "I will take care of You right away." By that time I was so upset, my language, was anything but appropriate, the server escorted me out of the dining area. I went back to my room, the attendant said "why did it take You so long?" I told her what happen, she said, I don't sign the slips before You go down, they give You the slip in the dining area. You sign it, and put your room number on it, then they give the slips to me and I signs them. She said I will go down and get you and your husband's food from now on. The train was coming from Los Angeles final stop Chicago IL.

Resolution Update 01/10/2010:

From reading the comments,I have learned, I went about handling the situation the wrong way.

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2.0 out of 5, based on 26 ratings and
55 reviews & complaints.
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